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Judges' Commentary for
the 2017 Haiku Society of America Awards for Haiku


Judges' Commentary for 2017

2017 Harold G. Henderson Haiku Awards

Judged by
Robert Gilliland & Cherie Hunter Day

The Harold G. Henderson Contest drew 990 entries this year. At first the sheer number of haiku seemed daunting, but we winnowed our selections down to much shorter lists on the first round. We rated our final list of fifteen and settled easily on the following poems. We thank all the poets for their participation and offer our hearty congratulations to the winners and honorable mentions. Selecting the winning haiku was a joyful process—much like a summer holiday.

~ First Place ($150) ~

for their world

Gary Hotham

Comments: There were fifteen haiku submitted to the contest this year that mentioned fire flies. There is something about fireflies that sparks the imagination of haiku poets. Seeing the first firefly of the summer is haiku-worthy. Firefly hunting in Japan is a favorite pastime for both young and old. The intermittent light of fireflies is also equated with the brevity of life. Consider this death haiku by Chine-jo (1660–1688), a follower of Bashô:

easily blazing
and easily extinguished—
the firefly

While the firefly’s activity is noteworthy as an object lesson, this year’s winner reminds us that nature isn’t a stand-in for anything else. The fireflies’ light is for them, not for us. There is such delight at being included as witnesses to their display.

~ Second Place ($100) ~

gathering dusk
all the colored pencils
back in their cup

Michele Root-Bernstein

Comments: With minimal brushstrokes (if we may mix artistic media) the poet beckons readers to imagine what the artist created with the colored pencils. The absence of an overt seasonal reference lets readers conjure scenes from any season: the first wildflowers in spring, an abundant summer meadow beneath blue sky and white clouds, the brilliance of autumn foliage, or the brightness of holiday lights and decorations. The artist/ poet has the utmost love and respect for the tools of the trade as, like a good shepherd, the flock is gathered safe and sound for the night. There we too await whatever artistic engagement tomorrow brings.

~ Third Place ($50) ~

the dogs
shake it loose
—summer sea

Alison Woolpert

Comments: The short, sharp sounds of the first four words give us the energetic movement of the gleeful canines as they attempt to dry themselves, no doubt right before they plunge back into the water. The repeated “s” sounds and flowing vowel sounds of the last three words summon the sound of the sea as wave after wave washes ashore. All the senses are engaged: we can feel the cool shower of water droplets from the dogs and the warmth of the sand beneath our feet, hear the jingle of collar tags, and breathe the summer smells of salt, sun, and wet dogs.

~ Honorable Mention ~

watermelon flesh deep in summer

Tigz DePalma

Comments: This wonderful haiku offers us raw, sensuous engagement in the height of the season. The line can be broken after “watermelon” to associate “fresh” with the melon, or after “fresh,” in which case it refers to the person eating the melon. Sweet, ripe, watermelon is best enjoyed without utensils, using only our hands and mouth. With juice dripping everywhere, watermelon eating becomes a full-contact sport. The absence of all articles in the haiku allows immersion directly into this pleasure and creates, like perfectly ripened fruit, a concentrated experience of summer.

~ Honorable Mention ~

trial separation
another inch of snow
on the gin bottles

Lew Watts

Comments: There is some ambiguity as to what the trial separation is a separation from—a relationship with another person or the bond with alcohol? The jolt of “gin” in the third line is both lighthearted and tragically serious. The reader gets to decide the storyline. Is the separation permanent? Or will the cooling-off period result in a more moderate lifestyle and a healthy relationship? Ultimately there’s hope that the trial will soon be over.

~ Honorable Mention ~

~ Honorable Mention ~

summer holiday
walking the dogs
where they want to go

Corine Timmer

Comments: Summer is the season of relaxation. A holiday in summer is dialed back even further. Here the poet lets the dogs take the lead on an adventure. It’s the essence of a vacation from the self. Lighthearted humor works perfectly in this haiku.




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